South America’s most famous travel journalist asks tough questions in the Amazon.
Pedro Andrade has a captivity of 8.5 million weekly viewers via his syndicated show, “Manhattan Connection,” and anchors the highest-rated travel show in Latin America, “Pedro Pelo Mundo.” But until now, the Brazilian-born journalist has never seriously investigated the biggest mystery in his home country – the Amazon.
This week, the story changes thanks to Andrade’s new show, “Unknown Amazon with Pedroa Andrade,” debuts on VICE. The series tells the Amazon’s critical role in the fight against climate change and the disappearing lives of people living in the Amazon region. We sat down with Andrade to talk about the experiences in the rainforest and find out why he now chose to finally return home to film.
Joe Sills: There’s a moment coming soon if it’s not already happened where you’re back in New York. You are in a bar with some friends and they will ask you about the show. What can you tell them about the people of the Amazon who want to surprise them?
Pedro Andrade: I think they look more like us than we imagine they are. We are all looking for the same answers. Where did we come from? Where are we going? We all face the battle between the right things to do and the bad things to feel.
I feel like being in touch with these people who quite often did not speak my language at all in a way that I did not expect.
VICE is known as this network that performs hardcore storytelling. They go into the Taliban and Boko Haram, but I think this show expands their audience. We are talking about serious problems. I cry with victims for this situation, but I also eat with them and dance with them and laugh with them. The reason I’m sitting in New York right now is geographic lottery. The people of the Amazon are in many ways like us. That’s what I want people to understand. We must respect them as we respect each other.
Joe Sills: How was your relationship with the Amazon as a child growing up in Rio?
Pedro Andrade: I distinctly remember my grandmother telling me about indigenous communities in the Amazon and how dangerous it was. She told me how they lived and hunted what they ate. As a child, it was so fascinating. And I’m not alone.
For centuries, Amazon has fascinated explorers, missionaries, and artists. I traveled to 65 counties on the show that I have hosted for years, which happens to be the most watched travel show in South America, and it took me all this to make myself familiar with the rest of the world enough to be able to to return home and make this dream of exploring the Amazon come true.
Joe Sills: So it’s safe to say you’ve never visited it before this show?
Pedro Andrade: No, not at all. It is not an easy place to visit. The Amazon is massive – it contains a third of the trees in the world and 20% of the flowing fresh water. When you film a show in Dubai or New Zealand, it feels far away. But when you film in the Amazon, you do not just land there. You have nine hours in a canoe. You have two days on a boat. You have four days in a little plane because it’s just gigantic.
Joe Sills: What kind of precautions should you take from a human point of view when filming with and meeting the distant people who live there?
Pedro Andrade: We were lucky enough to have access to some of the most isolated tribes on earth. It is already difficult to get to these places, so you can imagine how difficult it was during a pandemic. God forbid that anyone brought any kind of virus into these communities. You could wipe out an entire ethnicity, so we were extremely careful.
There are permits you need to get and government organizations that are responsible for protecting these people and countries. Add to that, everyone knows that Brazil is going through terrible political unrest, and the president and leaders do not want cameras in these places. It was not easy, but I am proud to say that VICE is the network that will tell stories that other networks do not tell and will talk to people that other networks will not talk to.
Joe Sills: Are indigenous peoples aware of how massive climate change is as a global situation?
Pedro Andrade: It’s interesting because we tend to think that natives do not have a sophisticated mindset or consciousness – but it’s actually the opposite. I talked to people who told me that the amount of rain they get is completely different from the amount of rain their parents or ancestors used to get.
During this generation, the river has changed in ways they have not seen before. It makes it harder for them to find food or stay somewhere long. In episode 1, I visited communities that were dependent on the river. Before, they used to move places due to erosion every six years. Now they move every five months.
For example, it makes it harder for them to get things like medical care.
Climate change affects these people much more than it affects me in New York or even people in Miami despite what we see there. Natives are very attentive and I think they are very scared.
The population who are aware of certain villains such as oil companies, extraction companies and politicians; but they have this other kind of cancer inside, which is progress.
Suddenly you see a native who is completely naked – it depends on hunting to eat – walking closer to an antenna in a wooden boat just to download a movie. They do not seem to be aware of how dangerous it is.
You can kill a politician with a spear. You can kill an illegal miner with a gun. You can not kill the Internet.
Joe Sills: What duty do you think Brazil and other countries have towards the Amazon?
Pedro Andrade: The Amazon is not just a Brazilian problem. It’s not just a South American problem. It is a global problem and we need to understand that time is running out.
I find a lot of politicians and leaders talking about how other countries have destroyed their forests, and they are asking, who are they to ask Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia to preserve the Amazon? But we have two choices: we look at mistakes we have made in the past, or we are inspired by countries that are doing something about it right now.
If you look at France, Germany and even what Biden is doing now, you see that laws to protect the environment are getting stronger. They have more power and more strategy behind them. Meanwhile, Brazil’s president is a far – right president who is extremely racist and homophobic. He does not believe in climate change and believes that indigenous peoples are less important than cattle. There is a need for an awareness that either other leaders are doing something about the Amazon, otherwise this man will be able to cause harm not only to Brazil, not just to South America, but to the rest of the planet.
Joe Sills: Looking back on the journey, what did you learn from finally visiting the Amazon?
Pedro Andrade: So much … By the time I was born, 1% of the Amazon had been destroyed. Now we are at 21%. If we get close to 40%, we will reach a turning point that will not only destroy the largest rainforest in the world, but will destroy 350 indigenous ethnicities that depend on the country.
Culturally, so much tradition and history has already been lost; but we still have a chance to save this important part of our climate.
The connective tissue of this show is the Amazon, and it connects societies that deal with climate change, women’s rights, and racism. For me, this was an incredible opportunity to see all this first hand and look around.
It comes with a price. There is no guarantee that you will return, honestly. But for the most part, I feel like we were welcomed. People understood that we wanted to tell the real story and give these people, who have been respected and ignored for centuries, a megaphone so that they too can be heard and seated at the table.
“Amazon unknown with Pedro Andrade” airs on Tuesdays at 22:00 ET on VICE TV.